Designing Away Traffic Fatalities

New York City has a plan for designing away traffic fatalities

Each year in the United States, more than 34,000 people die from traffic accidents. That’s more than three times the number of gun homicides per year. How can design help? New York City is designing away traffic fatalities.

A New York Times article examines a plan by Mayor de Blasio to employ design to drastically reduce traffic fatalities.

De Blasio isn’t the first with this idea. Sweden implemented the Vision Zero initiative in 1997 with the audacious goal of zero fatalities each year in the country of 9.5 million residents. Their national traffic fatality rate, 1.1 per 100,000 people, is now the lowest in the world.

Minnesota and Utah have adopted aspects of Vision Zero-like design, with encouraging results.

This article lays out a few interesting design statements:

  • Goal of zero fatalities
  • Philosophy of designing around the human (“you should be able to make mistakes without being punished by death”)
  • Pedestrian education and rule enforcement don’t work

Tools For Designing Away Traffic Fatalities

A wide array of tools exist for designing a safer transportation system and environment.

City planners designing changes to the physical environment certainly help: barriers, speed bumps, roundabouts, the placement of bike lanes and planters and sidewalks. Rule changes, such as reduced speed limits, contribute as well.

Even pricing signals can be used–in the case, congestion charges in downtown Stockholm help reduce the number of cars in pedestrian-heavy downtown areas.

But designing away traffic fatalities depends in part on context and culture. The tools that work in Swedish society and cities can’t be cloned in the Big Apple. As de Blasio’s transportation chief says in the article, New York City is definitely not going to be Stockholm.

Space in NYC limits the use of roundabouts. Civil rights concerns put a damper on the use of traffic cameras to record data and catch rule breakers.

Given the U.S.’s love with cars, car culture, and individual freedoms, we’ll probably never get to zero traffic deaths. But even if design made cars merely as deadly as guns, we could save more than 20,000 deaths per year.

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